Tom Erickson
  home •• pubs essays  HCI Remixed HICSS PC patterns  Apple Human Interface Alumni page

A Few Days on Maui

(Part 1 of Tom's Hawaii Trip, January 1997)

 

On January 5th I boarded a plane in Minneapolis amidst blowing snow and subzero weather and disembarked several hours later to warm breezes and glowing just-after-sunset skies in Honolulu. It's an amazing time we live in. A quick hop on Hawaiian airlines got me to Maui, where I picked up a car and headed towards my conference hotel. I didn't know quite where I was going, but I knew it was on the other side of the island and that there weren't very many major highways, so I got the ocean behind me and drove and ended up where I wanted. One of the many things I love about islands.

Due to a scheduling change, I had all of the next day free. So in obedience to advice proffered by a friend on the Internet, I decided to drive clear around the island to Hana. Hana is on the isolated and rain-foresty east coast of Maui, and the road to Hana is like a narrower version of California's highway 1 transposed into the tropics: lots of one-lane bridges just downstream from waterfalls, and some driving along cliff edge roads over stunning beaches. I drove about half an hour beyond Hana to a spot called "the seven sacred pools" - which apparently aren't really sacred, but are beautiful nonetheless - and took a hike up into the mountains. The highlight -- yes, there were beautiful waterfalls, but by the time you get to Hana you're pretty inured to rainbow shrouded torrents plunging into deep blue pools -- ...the highlight was a couple of miles of trail through a bamboo forest. The bamboo was Big: maybe 90 feet tall, stalks (trunks?) 6 inches in diameter. It was incredibly dense - maybe eight inches between stalks - so it was very dark. And when the wind blew the bamboo stalks rubbed against each other, clicking and rapping and creaking and shrieking in a singularly arhythmic manner. It sounded almost alive, as though the canopy were inhabited by a vast flock of woodpeckers on a bad acid trip.

The next day it was *very* difficult to get into the professional swing of things for the conference; however once I discovered that my talk had been rescheduled for first thing the next day, the jolt of adrenalin shoved me into the proper frame of mind, and I conferenced away, got my talk polished, etc. etc. This was actually good, because I got my talk out of the way, and found a couple of opportunities during extended breaks to head off to a nearby beach for body surfing. The internet had proved its mettle and directed me to a beach with a good body surfing break near my hotel, that also happened to be swimsuit optional. So, many happy hours were spent frolicking in the waves during the extended lunch breaks, and the existence of the conference events kept me from getting burned to a crisp.

After the conference ended I stayed on for an extra day and a half. The last full day I took another friend's advice, arose at 4:30am, and drove up to the 10,000+ ft top of Haleakala, the volcano, to watch the sun rise over the crater. This is a pretty popular thing to do, and so I joined a crowd of a hundred or so people, trying, with some success, to be amused rather than annoyed at all the people who believed that their flash attachments would let them get good pictures of the sunrise. Initially it was completely dark; the moon was down and there was nothing but stars and stars and stars. As the sky gradually got light we could see that there were some clouds on the horizon and that the crater was filled with mist. As it got lighter the mist in the crater started to dissolve. We could see crags of rock peeking out of the mist, and gradually a barren landscape was revealed. The mist was eddying now, and you could see it flowing down an exposed sand dune, dissipating part way down the dune face. There were still clouds on the horizon, with the sort of puffy, burled tops like you see on thunderheads, and so there was some concern about a lackluster sunrise. But then, when the sun approached the edge of the clouds, it lit them from underneath, so that the horizon looked like a bed of coals, glowing an intense orange with an arc of blue just above. Very Beautiful! Then the sun came up, which was pretty anticlimactic, actually, and that was that.

I'd initially intended to spend the day hiking the crater, but the call of the beach and body surfing won out over my initial intent, and so I headed down the mountain and spent the rest of my time there interspersing body surfing, sightseeing, and dining.

 

The Key

(Part 2 of Tom's Hawaii Trip, January 1997)

 



The last episode in my previous account was the drive up to the top of Haleakala, the Maui volcano, to watch the sunrise. In fact, that was the penultimate adventure.... what happened next was an adventure of a different order.

I drove down the road from Haleakala, passing occasional pods of cyclists who had been bussed to the summit and were now coasting down the thirty four mile run to the coast. I was headed to north shore. I had it in mind to visit the town of Haiku, for no other reason, really, than its name. I also like to try to get away -- at least once per trip -- from wherever people are supposed to go, and since my guidebook said next to nothing about Haiku, it sounded like a good place to aim for.

Well, I did indeed get away. There were twisty roads, through green misty meadows and shady green woods. It felt a lot like rural mendocino county along the coast. A very moist, grey green sort of experience. But I never came to Haiku. Roads split off and came together like rills during a wet spring, and the main channel was never obvious. So I trickled down, this way and that, eventually winding up on the coast highway, without ever having encountered the elusive Haiku.

Not being fanatical about such things I headed west, towards Paia, a sort of hippy-ish town in sight of the coast, with a nice bakery and shops and such (I'd stopped there on my drive to Hana at the other end of my trip). By the time I made Paia the sun was out, the sky was blue, and it was fixing to be a hot day. I parked along the side of the main drag, got out, and tried to orient myself, to get a fix on the bakery, because it was definitely time for a little something.

However, standing there on the sidewalk, I suddenly had an Awful Feeling.

I patted my pocket. No jingle. I patted my other pocket. No jingle. I patted my back pocket. No jingle. I tried the car door. Locked. I peered through the window, and there, hanging from the ignition, were my keys.

I tried all the other doors. Locked. Locked. Locked.

In a burst of unthinking desperation I tried the trunk. God knows what I would have done had it been unlocked. Climbed in and tried to tunnel through the back seat, perhaps. But, of course, it was l o c k e d .

Time to swallow the old pride, and call up Hertz, and explain what happened. This must happen pretty frequently, really. Probably they have spare keys for each car, and can just send one right out. At least I'm not up on top of the damn volcano, or out in Hana or somewhere. I'm probably only twenty minutes from the main office here.

So I called. We talked. I explained. They didn't have a key... but they could have one made. They asked me for my contract number. Oops: it's in the glove compartment. OK, license plate. That was doable. They'll have a key cut, and will send one out in a taxi. About forty minutes. OK. that's not bad....

Time passes. I don't wear a watch, so I'm not sure how much time passes. I browse the stores, trying not to look like a shoplifter, and eyeing the walls for clocks. There are no clocks. This is Hawaii. Occasionally I ask fellow browsers for the time. They are tourists. They have watches. It goes slowly. After half an hour I go out near the car and keep an eye out for a taxi. It's quite hot. The sun is bright. My sunglasses and sunscreen are in the glove compartment. But I must wait. There was no address, so the taxi knows only that it should cruise the main street of Paia, and look for some frantically waving idiot who locked his keys in the car.

Time passes. Forty minutes has come and gone. An hour has passed. There are a few false alarms--shuttles, cop cars--but no taxis. Finally, a taxi. I wave frantically. The taxi pulls in. He has a key for me. He is a friendly old man of Japanese descent. He gives me the key, I give him some money, and, in a rush of paranoia, I ask him to hang on a minute before leaving. Of course the key will work...

I hurry across the street. I try the key. I doesn't work. I jiggle it. No luck. I try it upside down. No luck. I try all the other doors. No. No. No. Hell, I even try the trunk again. No. I wave frantically at the taxi, who has decided his minute is up. He stops, and pulls back in. Sigh of relief.

I explain the problem. He gets out his cellphone and calls Hertz. Gets the manager. Hands me the phone. I explain. The manager sighs. The car is a very new one. Just got it in. The key codes that factory gave us seem to be mixed up. Very sorry. Why not come back to the office while we're working on it.

So, I ride back to the office in the taxi. The taxi driver is very friendly. He keeps up a running stream of commentary, about half of which I catch. He and his wife have their own two-cab company. Their family has been here for generations. He works for the rental car company all the time. They should have a key that works! Make sure they pick up my fare! When we get to the rental car place he comes in with me and tells the manager all this. The manager agrees. The manager is a Hawaiian man named Rick, with one of those wonderful Hawaiian last names that you sort of have to sing. Rick is very mellow, and the fact that only an idiot would lock his keys in the car appears to have never entered his mind. He is very apologetic about not having a key. He has called the factory, but they too are confused about the codes.

But Rick has a solution: We will give you a new car, and we'll send someone out on Monday to take care of that one.

This is Not a good solution. Fortunately, I have a good Excuse: Many, important, even vital things, in the glove compartment, and my plane leaves tomorrow, Sunday. So Monday is too late. Rick agrees, thus saving me from having to mention the unfortunate fact that I have suppressed until now: I locked the keys in the car while the engine was running.

The car gets really good gas mileage. How long will it run on idle? What will give out first: the gas, or the engine? How good is the cooling system, in the idling car, on the sunny side of the street, on this very very warm Hawaiian day? Or perhaps it will burn up all the oil first, and the engine will freeze into a useless, but very expensive lump of metal. Thus go my ruminations.

Rick has another idea! A locksmith! Yes, the Leia Lock Company will solve the problem. We work with them frequently. He calls them. Yes, they will come over. He gives directions to the locksmith. He gives a check to my very friendly cabbie, and we get back in the taxi and head back to the car. We arrive. No locksmith is in site, but he was coming from farther away, so this isn't unexpected. So, I thank the cabbie, and find myself, once again, standing beside the car, on the sunny, sunny street.

It is approaching noon. It is very hot, and very bright. The car's engine fan is running. The car windows are mirrors, reflecting the street scene. I try to stand in a little niche of shade. But there's not quite enough cover all my bare skin, unless I contort my body a bit. But I already feel pretty conspicuous, so I decide to let my right arm fry, since the left one had gotten a head start throught the open window when I was driving earlier. I lean nonchalantly against the side of the building, as though I have nothing better to do than to watch Paia's main street fill up with traffic at noon on Saturday. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirrors of the car's windows: I don't look nonchalant. The reflection jerks a little, as the car's fan turns off.

The car idles softly. I convince myself that most of the people walking by don't notice that it's running, or if they do, they don't notice that it's been parked there quite a long time. The fan goes on again and whirs for a while. Then it goes off. A little bit later it goes back on. I try not to time the intervals between fan off and fan on. I try not to speculate on whether those intervals are getting shorter, as the engine grows hotter and hotter and hotter. I distract myself by watching for locksmith. He has a brown van, Rick said, with a sign on top. You can't miss it. I see many vans, some with signs on top. In the distance, at least if one is watching Very Hopefully, police cars and taxis (lots of them now) look kind of like locksmith vans.

Time passes. Many almost-locksmith-vans appear in the distance, only to resolve into less welcome vehicles as they approach. The car has been idling at least two hours. The fan is clearly staying on more, and off less. I wonder how much heat the fan itself generates, and whether there is some diabolical non-linear heating function that is about to go exponential on me. I fantasize about breaking the window, and then fantasize about being dragged of to jail by very friendly Hawaiian cops in vans that look almost but not quite like locksmith vans.

Finally, a locksmith van appears. I wave frantically. The locksmith pulls in across the street into a parking place that has miraculously opened up. He doesn't come over immediately. He goes into the back of his van for about five minutes. The fan goes off and on a couple of times. Finally he comes over. He's a bit portly, a bit unkept, in a bit of a bad mood. Not that he's rude. He doesn't comment on the fact that the car appears to be running. Nor does he comment on the mental traits that might be responsible for my predicament. But clearly his lot in life is to be at the beck and call of idiots, and he's not pleased about this. Perhaps I exaggerate. Perhaps he's just a bit hung over from Friday night. But I pay little attention to his mood, and hang on his words of Hope: Just a matter of cutting a key, he says. It'll be no problem--I've been doing this for thirteen years. I feel relieved. I hardly even notice the thirteen.

He goes back into his van. The fan goes on. He's talking on his cellphone. Five minutes pass. The fan goes off. He's fiddling with a machine, perhaps cutting a key? He comes out and crosses the street. Takes out a key, sticks it in the door, and... it doesn't work. He takes a file and files at the key. Still doesn't work. But I can tell he's a Pro: he doesn't even glance towards the trunk. I watch his reflection in the window: he's scowling; there are beads of sweat on his upper lip. Finally he gives up in disgust, expressing his feelings in terms that suggest he was a Nixon staffer in a previous life. 'The key codes are bad,' he explains to me, in tones that don't quite suggest it's my fault. 'I thought they sounded screwy when the factory gave them to me.' I decide not to mention that I already knew this. The fan goes on again.

He goes back to the van, and comes back out, sooner this time, with a long tool. I'll just jimmy the door, he says. I watch with interest. I'd briefly had visions of dismembered coat hangers and delicate lock fishing, but these new cars are pretty tight and the door locks are just little stubs, not something you could get a hanger loop over. I kneel down to get a better view. From this angle the window reflects only the blue of the sky and the sweat beaded crown of his head. He's not going for the lock, but down inside the door, trying for the handle, I presume. He taps a little plastic wedge in between the window and the car frame, to give himself more working room, then starts fishing around with a long tool that's a more sophisticated version of ye olde bent coat hanger. He's trying to hook something, and occasionally pulls up sharply. The mirrored sky trembles at each jerk, and sweat trickles down his head. But he can't quite get whatever it is. He's swearing now, and I sense the ghost of Nixon nearby, listening with interest to novel catenations of explicatives. He tries again. His pulls get more violent, but still the whatever-it-is resists. This is a bitch, he says. He wipes his brow. It's quite hot. I haven't noticed the car fan go off in quite a while. It's whirring right along. Perhaps it sounds a bit rougher? He goes back to work. To give himself a little more room to work, he taps the wedge in a little more.

And then I see it. First, it's just a flash that catches the corner of my eye, like heat lighting on the horizon. A bright glint. And then, like a massive lightening bolt in a midsummer's thunderstorm, a jagged tree of light crackles upwards through the blue of the sky. It's the window, of course, its safety glass shattering, catching the sun in a coral fan of light.

A long moment passes. The workman utters a single word. The window sags a bit, and chunks of the fractured sky begin to fall to the sidewalk.

Well, that solves that problem. The workman -- I'm no longer thinking of him as a locksmith -- mutters that this has never happened before, in his thirteen years of doing this. I knock out the rest of the glass, lean in, and turn off the car. The fan is still going, but I know the end is in sight. The lady, in front of whose shop this little drama has occured, comes out to the sidewalk and, with a smile, offers me a broom and dustpan. After two and a half hours of helplessness, I am pleased by the opportunity for constructive action. I sweep up. I empty the dustpan in the store. I thank the lady. I go back out to the car. The locksmith has left. The fan goes off. I feel a peace descend over me.

The rest of the story is uneventful. I drive back to the Hertz place, listening to the dull tinkle of shards of glass working their way through the innards of the door. I am Recognized. Hertz employees nod pleasantly at me. They are professionals. Rick himself comes to help me. I explain. Rick nods sympathetically. He too is a professional. We fill out paperwork. Rick says they'll work out payment with the lock company. They give me a new car, with no discernable hesitation. I leave, and spend the rest of the day body surfing. But first, before getting in the car, I make sure that each of the doors in the car is unlocked. Can't do anything about the trunk, though.

 

Tom Erickson

home ••• pubs essays  HCI Remixed HICSS PC patterns Apple Human Interface Alumni page •